Ecuador lawmakers re-elect National Assembly president

FILE PHOTO: Session to vote on whether to proceed with an impeachment process against Ecuador's President Lasso, in Quito

By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) - Independent lawmaker Virgilio Saquicela was re-elected president of Ecuador's National Assembly on Sunday, supported by politicians who want an impeachment process against President Guillermo Lasso to advance to a vote for his possible removal.

Saquicela, who took over as president of the National Assembly in May last year, has become a principal figure in the process against Lasso, who is accused of embezzlement in an oil transportation contract.

Lasso has denied the accusations.

The assembly voted to continue with the impeachment process on Tuesday in a session convened by Saquicela with 88 votes in favor out of 116 legislators present.

A majority of 96 lawmakers of the 136 present voted to re-elect Saquicela. He was supported by allies of former President Rafael Correa, who is convicted of corruption, as well as other opposition and independent parties.

"This parliament has to be the counterweight against power, not against anyone in particular, but because that is what democracy dictates," Saquicela said.

Ecuador's opposition accuse Lasso of turning a blind eye to suspected embezzlement related to a contract at state-owned oil transportation company Flopec. Lasso says his administration made changes to the contract, which was signed years before he took office, to benefit the state.

Under Ecuador's constitution, Lasso could call early presidential and legislative elections rather than face a removal vote.

Saquicela, who formed part of a caucus of legislators supporting the government, openly supports impeachment hearings and has warned that dissolving the assembly in the middle of proceedings would be unconstitutional.

Ninety-two votes from the 137-member assembly are needed to remove Lasso. Some opposition members attempted to remove him last year amid protests by Indigenous groups.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Grant McCool)